How can I participate?
I am constantly looking for volunteers who are willing to replicate this project on their own. All you need is a speculum, flashlight, and a camera and a little bit of willingness, commitment, and patience! It is an empowering and life-changing experience to get to intimate with your body’s cycles.
Please visit the Participate Page for more information.
When am I fertile?
Please read the Your Cycle page for more detailed information and an overview of fertility patterns as they relate to your cycle.
In general, a woman is fertile when she has any or all of the symptoms of fertility: fertile quality cervical fluid, a wet sensation in her vulva, and/or when her cervical os is open and high in her vagina. If any of these symptoms are occurring, the woman is considered fertile until three days of having none of those symptoms.
I highly recommend that all women read a book about their cycles- even if they are not using it as a method of birth control. I recommend Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Wechsler or Honoring Our Cycles by Katie Singer. Check out other great books, websites, and products on the Resources Page.
Can I get pregnant while I am having my period?
Yes, it is a possibility, but the detailed answer to this question is different for all women. Remember that the amount of days from the beginning of a woman’s period to ovulation is variable (this is called the follicular phase and the number of days can be widely different between women and also can vary from cycle to cycle for the same woman). Getting pregnant while on your period is a possibility because sperm can live in the vagina/cervix in fertile cervical fluid for up to 5 days. In a short menstrual cycle or a cycle with a long bleeding phase, the blood from your period can mask the simultaneous release of fertile cervical fluid, so you might not even notice typical fertility signals. If sperm are present, they may remain alive in the fertile mucous until the egg is released during ovulation.
However, once a woman has begun tracking her cycle regularly, she may find that her fertility signals (fertile quality cervical mucous, wet vulva, high soft open os) never correspond with her period and that she always has a few non-fertile days between the end of her period and her fertile phase. In this case, the woman may consider herself not fertile during her period. I do not advise that you make the assumption that you are infertile during your period unless you have been accurately charting your cycles and determining your own body’s rhythms for at least 4 months.
Please refer to the Your Cycle page for more information.
What does a pregnant cervix look and feel like?
During pregnancy, the cervix will rise a bit and become softer feeling and puffier looking, but the timing of this happening will vary from woman to woman and thus makes it difficult to diagnose pregnancy just from examining the cervix. For some women, they will notice this shift shortly before their period is due (since normally, their cervix feels low and harder at this point in the cycle), but for others, this shift in cervical position will not happen until quite a while after their pregnancy has been confirmed.
During pregnancy, about half of women will experience that their cervices take on a blue/purple tint as blood flow to the area increases. The os may appear more open.
Women may notice an increased cervical discharge when they are pregnant. Leukorrhea is a whitish colored vaginal discharge that women often see during pregnancy. The higher levels of estrogen produced during pregnancy cause the cervical glands to secrete more cervical fluid. It may become more noticeable as a woman gets further along in her pregnancy and is most common in the third trimester. However, some women may notice leukorrhea in early pregnancy.
Can I use these photos in my project/book/report/etc?
Most likely, yes. However, I ask that you please contact me to ask permission so I can keep track of where and how these images are being used. I ask that people make a donation to the project to honor the value of this work and to support the evolution of this project. I usually respond within a few weeks.
How can I see my own cervix?
I encourage you to ask your gynecologist, midwife, or health practitioner to let you see your cervix during your next gynecological exam. You may want to bring your own hand mirror, though many clinics have them available.
If you are at home, assume a semi-reclined position, with your sacrum on a flat surface and your knees open, heels together. It is helpful to first insert your finger into your vagina and feel the location of your cervix (will feel like a little nub protruding into your vagina and may be as hard as the tip of your nose or as soft as puckered lips and will likely be 3-6 inches inside your vagina). Insert the speculum (handles up) into the vagina, aiming for the general location you just discovered with your finger; using a lubricant may help it slide in easily. Press the handles together to open the mouth of the speculum until you hear a ‘click,’ which indicates it is locked and will remain open. Hold the hand mirror between your legs while the speculum is inserted and angle it so you can see the inside of your vagina. Shine a flashlight at the mirror so it reflects off of it and illuminates your vagina. Hopefully the cervix (looking like a little wet pink doughnut) at the back wall of the vagina will be visible. Cervices are not always mid-line, so if you cannot see it right away, you may need to angle the speculum differently, pull it out a little, or reinsert it at a different angle.
If you are a visual learner, please watch this movie on how to photograph your cervix.
Where do I get a speculum?
If your practitioner uses disposable plastic speculums, you can ask her/him to take it home after the exam and keep it to use by yourself later.
If you’d like to see your cervix in the privacy of your own home, you can purchase a speculum kit here.
I will soon be teaching empowering Womb Wisdom workshops, which include learning self-exam.
How do I clean my speculum?
The vagina is not a sterile environment; it naturally contains a balance of many strains of micro-organisms (also called vaginal flora). However, it is best to minimize introducing unwanted bacteria into it via an unclean speculum. So, please wash your speculum well with (antibacterial) soap and hot water before and after each use. If you have a metal speculum, you might want to sterilize it in boiling water (though this is not guaranteed to kill all bacteria). Boiling a plastic speculum will melt it. Don’t share your speculum with others.
A scar is the body’s natural response to injury; fibrous tissue grows at the wound site to repair softer tissue. Even our cervices can grow scar tissue. Some women make more scar tissue than others and there isn’t a way to predict who will grow scar tissue and who won’t. Cervical scarring may affect fertility, pregnancy and labor.
What can cause cervical scarring?
- Cone and punch biopsies – removal of abnormal cervical tissue
- Cryosurgery – freezing of cervical tissue to treat cervicitis or cervical dysplasia
- LEEP and LLETZ procedures – tissue removal by wire loop that cauterizes site
- Dilation and Curettage (D & C) – dilating cervix and scraping or suctioning out contents of uterus after miscarriage or as abortion
- Cervical tears during childbirth – related to manual dilation, premature pushing or an exceptionally large fetal head or shoulders
- Some sexually transmitted infections or untreated bacterial or viral infections of the cervix
- Pelvic Inflammatory Disease
- Asherman’s syndrome
How does having cervical scar tissue affect me?
Cervical scarring can slow, stall or prevent dilation during labor. Contrastingly, it can cause incompetent cervix, premature labor, or need for cerclage. Rarely, it may cause cervical stenosis if the endocervical canal becomes obstructed or narrowed blocking the flow of menstrual fluid or the entrance of semen.
What does scarring feel like?
Reach a clean finger into your vagina and get familiar with your cervix. It is normal for the cervix to feel harder during certain times of the month and softer near ovulation. Scar tissue may feel thicker, denser or lumpier than the surrounding tissue of the cervix.
What can I do if I have scarring?
- Cervical Self-Massage (for non- pregnant women) – Use your finger to apply firm pressure or small circular strokes to your cervix. Consider Evening Primrose Oil as a lubricant since it has natural prostaglandins that can soften the cervix. Take deep breaths. You may actually feel the adhesions breaking up under your fingers. Do as many sessions as needed.
- Find a local massage therapist, sexilogical bodyworker, acupuncturist or midwife who is trained to help women release scar tissue via internal massage, such as myofascial release technique.
- If pregnant, ask your midwife or doctor about scar tissue massage during late pregnancy – based on your history and risk factors, she may advise for or against softening the tissue before labor begins. Ask her about taking Evening Primrose Oil orally or as a vaginal suppository in the last weeks of pregnancy.
- Ask your doctor or midwife to massage your scar tissue when they check your dilation during labor especially if your dilation stalls – often it will release allowing complete dilation. This may increase your chances of having a vaginal birth.
Please remember that many women who have these common procedures or infections do not have issues with cervical scarring. Also, many times, once the scar tissue is broken up, it will not return and subsequent pregnancies and dilation may progress smoothly.
Yes, absolutely! Recall that Fertility Awareness Methods (FAM) involve charting observable fertility signs (changes in cervical fluid, basal body temperature, and cervical texture and position) as a way of determining a women’s cyclical fertility.
FAM as Birth Control
Using both basal body temperature and cervical fluid charting, FAM can be used to prevent pregnancy, and if used properly, has a method failure rate of about 2%. That means that if 100 couples exclusively use FAM for an entire year, only 2 of them would get pregnant within that year; these odds are similar to many birth control pills. Women practicing FAM for birth control avoid intercourse or genital contact with men during their fertile time. Some use barrier methods, like condoms, diaphragms, or cervical caps during their fertile window, but this reduces the efficacy of the method. FAM is particularly appealing to women who are wary of or react to hormonal contraception or barrier methods (i.e latex or spermicide sensitivity) or who don’t use contraceptives for religious beliefs. FAM does not provide protection from sexually transmitted diseases, so is usually recommended as primary birth control only for monogamous couples.
FAM as Overall Health Gauge
Daily charting will indicate the exact length of a woman’s luteal phase (number of days from ovulation to getting her period). Typically 14 days long, a short luteal phase can indicates a hormonal imbalance and possibly insufficient progesterone to maintain a pregnancy. Some women bleed monthly, but are not ovulating- called anovulatory cycles. A woman who charts can confirm she is actually ovulating by noting an increase in her basal body temperature by a few tenths of a degree immediately post-ovulation, which should remain high until she begins her next period.
TTC with FAM
When she actually begins trying to conceive, a woman used to charting using FAM will have accurate information about when she is fertile during each cycle, and can plan intercourse or insemination appropriately. Unlike calendar methods, which predict current fertility based on past menstrual cycles, FAM uses current symptoms/fertility signs to gage fertility in present time. If she notices 18 days of consecutive high basal body temperatures post ovulation, she can be assured that she is pregnant, even before some pregnancy tests may give her accurate results. Also, she will likely know her exact conception day, which will be important later in determining her estimated due date (EDD), especially if she has irregular cycles.